Hamilton’s Farmer’s market is looking for $150,000 from city council in the hopes of managing a budget deficit projected for 2020 tied to a decrease in customers and rent collections from vendors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, the market presented an annual report to city councillors and revealed that attendance between mid-March and mid-June was around 5,000 people per week in 2020.
That number is far below the 2019 average of closer to 20,000 per week over the same time period.
“Twenty-three businesses that operated through all stages experienced reduced sales, higher supply costs, and delinquent accounts of commercial customers,” the report said in an impact statement.
The primary financial issue is the federal government’s rent relief program created in April which set out to compensate commercial property owners who reduced clients’ rents by 75 per cent to ease the burden of lighter business during the pandemic.
The market, which is operated on city land, did not qualify since it doesn’t own the property.
During Monday’s session, Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson asked Hamilton Farmer’s market board of directors chair, Eric Miller, if there was any number less than the $150,000 that might be acceptable to avoid a deficit.
“Seventy-five per cent is absolutely critical. If it’s less than that, then we will have to go back to our drawing board and figure out again what other alternative means we might have,” Miller said.
The report goes on to say the market had to endure 15 restricted events during Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the pandemic with seven of some 60 merchants prevented from operating at all during Stage 1.
Also, four businesses terminated their contract with the market and two others, which were supposed to open in 2019, cancelled their plans due to COVID-19.
Miller went on to say that the closure of downtown offices and a lockdown of communication platforms by the city reduced on-site capacity, and the presence of homeless encampments in the area further hampered efforts to attract customers.
The last time the farmers market ran at a deficit was in 2016, according to Miller; however, he says that since then the operation has been running as a corporation for the city with a market board.
In receiving the report, Ward 7 councillor Esther Pauls asked Miller if it could be possible to run the market at a deficit.
Miller said it would be, potentially allowing the city to submit the deficit either to the federal or provincial governments for some sort of financial coverage.
Monday’s recommendations from the market board are now expected to go through a future standing committee of council.
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